In December 2020 / January 2021, Feature Stories by Melissa Howsam5 Comments

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20+ Local December Date Night Destinations

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Now just to find the perfect winter spirits for date night. Navigating what’s open—and in what capacity—can be a conundrum that doesn’t feel worth the hassle. But if you’re looking to sleigh your holiday with a date night out—whether to replace those standard soirees or just to escape your house—we’ve got you covered with some safe and socially distant sexy ambiance, unforgettable nips and sips, and, of course, romance. Here’s your roadmap to romance this December via a roundup of the best rendezvous spots around town for you and your significant other to nibble, tipple and even take a holiday elfie if the spirit moves you—making date night this holiday season as easy as pumpkin pie.

Take It Easy

Subterranean is sexy, and while downtown Raleigh has a half-dozen Don Draper-esque date-worthy dens for a submerged sultry vibe—well, safety first. Of late, some underground speakeasies around town have shed light on their concepts by taking them outdoors.

As our mag’s Best Overall Bar winner (2018, 2019), Watts & Ward‘s famed underground 1920s Americana vibe extends seamlessly to its now-reopened, large, covered, light-strung patio and yard, a la Paris, where martinis and moonlight mix for a lovely date night scene. Find your way to the garden gate entrance on Blount Street, rain or shine, for a romantic spot to sip on a few tipples from the new menu. Insider tip: Sign up online in advance for the $1 membership.

Watts & Ward

Other dateworthy drinking dens for classic and contemporary cocktails include fan-fave Foundation on Fayetteville Street, which has pivoted to an open-air, above-ground patio so you can imbibe its housemade syrups and colas and seasonal bevvies in a safe, socially distanced fashion.

Down the road in Durham, local fave Durham Distillery recently celebrated its five-year anniversary with the long-awaited October opening of its gin and martini bar, Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge—an addition to its award-winning Conniption Gin brand and Durham Distillery, and so dubbed for the classic gin cocktail: Corpse Reviver No. 2. Having just released its first barrel aged gin, Conniption Barrel Aged Gin No. 1 (think savory notes of juniper, rosemary and caraway balanced by spicy cardamom, sweet fig and lemon), the new gin den is the perfect spot for a grand date night. Designed for the posh modern gin bars of London with luxe Art Deco style, Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge is situated in a former coffin shop (so apropos!) on the ground floor beneath the distillery. Revive your romance and cozy up on the outdoor patio facing the historic train trestle with a house-made martini or signature draft cocktail in hand (try their nitrogen-infused signature Corpse Reviver No. 2!). And if you’re looking for new ground for you and your lover to cover, Corpse team members are eager to share their art, gin, cocktail smarts and recipes, with a menu created to cultivate not just passion and pleasure, but also guest education. And making customer safety a priority, the new gin house has implemented strict safety measures: a new air filtration system, waiver signatures, temperature checks, mask requirements, contact tracing and seating by reservation only (for 90-minute intervals and limited to parties of five, access via website).

Durham Distillery
Corpse Reviver

For some cozy snuggling and jingle juice, warm up on a heated patio in prime downtown Raleigh locale with new seasonal handcrafted cocktails at Dram and Draught in its relatively new (relocated) One Glenwood digs. And for the whiskey aficionado in you or your boo, Dram is a definite haute spot, with over 300 whiskeys, including rare and vintage, plus flight options. General spirits enthusiasts, too, will dig this libation haven’s brews from Raleigh and beyond, as well as its wide variety of wines. And if you really want to make a night of it, extend the romance post sips and head across the street to Origin Raleigh hotel, where Dram customers receive a special friends and family rate. If date night happens to be a low-key Sunday through Wednesday evening, perk up with 15 percent off via the hotelier’s Wind Down Weekdays program.

Room With a View

For en plein air romance with a view, Wye Hill in Boylan Heights offers the best views of the downtown skyline—bar none. Enjoy your serving of skyline paired with palatable small and large plates and potables—and Sunday brunch!—at this concept with a focus on “people, plates and pours.” For sharing (and some added warmth), try the warm beer cheese and thickly cut potato chips, and for fuel, the Wye burger (cheddar, Gouda, bacon, chipotle cream and fried green tomato) is a local fave—with a local brew to wash it down. Insider tip: Since those fairy tale views aren’t exactly news to locals, avoid tabling the romance and slide right into your date with a reservation on the covered patio, uncovered patio or in the tap room.

Wye Hill
Wye Hill

Take things next level (literally) with rooftop romance. Chic 10th-floor rooftop 10th & Terrace in Residence Inn Raleigh Downtown overlooks Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and miles of decked downtown streets for a promising perch for passion over contemporary American-fusion small plates (with home state accents), local brews, fine wine and a craft cocktail list. (Come summer, pop in to beat the heat with their boozy popsicles).

In North Hills, level up at Level7 and its swank, 5,100-square-foot, indoor-outdoor, Euro-inspired, Carolina-spirited rooftop bar overlooking Midtown, dishing tapas and signature cocktails, plus samplings from small-batch distilleries and single vineyard labels and best-of brewers.

For a different must-do date night view, the Durham Hotel provides unparalleled iconic panoramic Bull City views via its open-air patio and heated rooftop—the perfect perch for handcrafted cocktails, primo wine and beer offerings, with a must-nosh small kitchen menu to keep you sated (and from getting too tipsy). Reservations to claim your spot for rooftop romance go live each Monday for the week ahead (via resy.com); the patio is walk-ins only.

Nearby Unscripted Durham is another sweet spot for romantic trysts—and if you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, dream no more. Rendezvousers (and even double-daters) should definitely consider its rooftop patio, where you can fulfill the snowy, socially distanced fantasy with up to nine of your fave elves with plenty of room to spread out in one of six mega 7-foot-tall, 12-foot-diameter personal igloos. Each private igloo is equipped with seating and tables, nighttime lighting, a heater, a rug and more, with beautiful views of the city, weekly entertainment, signature bites and bevs from the new winter menu, and a massive lit Christmas tree to boot for the ultimate romantic holiday adventure. Picture you and boo, some candied walnuts and Chicky Chicky Boom Boom (relax, it’s an app with sweet and spicy sauce, rice vinegar pickled tomatoes and cucumber), Bacon All the Rules mashed potatoes, chocolate lava cake and a La-Dee Toddy (Mystic bourbon, spiced honey syrup, lemon). Yup. Winter Wonderland found. Each igloo requires a two-hour minimum reservation and is priced based on a per-person rate for food and beverage minimum. To extend the romance and get the most bang for your buck, Unscripted is offering a bundle igloo rental plus room package with a credit toward your food and bev minimum and up to 20 percent off room rates.

Small Plates

Since sharing is caring and tapas totally present as an intimate, low-key base for boozy cocktails and romance, you should “be bold; be yourself; and be the spirit at Killjoy.” Posh and eccentric collide at the new colorful, comfortable spot on West Street—ideal for a relaxing, intimate night out over small plates by chef Jake Wood, inspired cocktails and a killer playlist (reservations strongly encouraged). Insider tip: To up your snug factor, you can reserve the cozy, leather-couch-laden back room.


And if a cozy date night is what you’re after, you’ll want to add rustic-elegant, art gallery-meets-wine bar Vita Vite’s Midtown location to your destination list. Small plates and vino with a side of culture from your perch on the comfy couch or open-air patio delivers on rosy cheeks and butterflies for days.

Back in the Warehouse District, make date night extra festive at the North Pole — er, whiskey and cocktail haven Whiskey Kitchen—upping its holiday game with a professional decorator. Think Mahogany leaves and little twinkling lights, reminiscent of sipping great whiskey around a crackling fire on a crisp winter day. With plenty of atmosphere across its indoor-outdoor seating options (one of the best—heated!—large patios in town), it’s the perfect backdrop for romance — not to mention the inspired liquid libations and scrumptious selection of small, large and sweet plates (may we recommend some cracklin’ biscuits or sweet shoo fly pie to share?).

Going Global

For a lively and timeless night out, indulge in five-time James Beard Award semifinalist Scott Crawford’s newest casual-elegant (and delish) dining spot in historic Oakwood—a must-add to your date night destination list. Salut to you and boo at French bistro Jolie as you transport your self a la Paris via timeless, classic, time-honored French dishes, as well as modern adaptations from Crawford and chef de cuisine Madison Tessener—ideal for a City of Love-esque rendezvous. Reservations are strongly recommended, now via Tock; walk-ins are also welcome. And if you really want to impress your date: Arrive at 5, when you are likely to get a table on the roof or a seat at the bar watching the chefs work their skills in the kitchen… best seats in the house.


When you’re hunting that perfect quintessential date night destination, “some things scratch the surface, while others strike at your soul.” Soul-stirring, check. Updated Virgil’s Cocktail & Cocina by Local Icon is a must on your journey to checking that box for cool romance. The original Virgil’s (taco and taqueria), after taking a step back due to the pandemic, has risen from the ashes like a phoenix as a “slightly remastered, remixed” cocktail haven with elevated Mexican eats, a craft cocktail program and a dope DJ vibe.

At authentic Greek kitchen and bar Taverna Agora, transport your date night to Greece via the open-air rustic modern rooftop terrace while you nosh on delish Old World flavors — via both small plates to share and entrees—with fab cocktails and spirits to wash it down.

If Saturday night is date night, partake in the four-course prix fixe Patio Dinner Series at mezcaleria Gallo Pelón, where a speakeasy vibe meets rooftop bar with an air of mystery (and amazing exotic cocktails) nestled above sister restaurant Centro. The quaint, mural-painted, hanging-light-peppered outdoor space whispers perfect date night spot (and the chance to learn more about mezcal via its super-knowledgable staff).

Oh, and ciao, bella, Mulino! That’s amore indeed at this elegant indoor-outdoor Italian oasis (the “home you find when you travel”) downtown. “Saluti” your significant other under the lights by the pool—the ultimate romantic sanctuary—with a cocktail or a vino from the extensive wine list of selects from Italian estate vineyards. And when you can no longer resist the wonderful aromas of fine Italian dishes, nosh on any number of piquant pastas. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to reenact the famed Bella Note spaghetti scene from “Lady and the Tramp.”


Sweet Spot

Sugar and spice and everything nice — and that’s a wrap. Sweeten the deal or prolong it with dessert. Consider a stop at chic Bittersweet‘s patio for an open-all-day “terribly wonderful dessert, cocktail and coffee lounge,” or order ahead to pick up at the to-go window to take home.

End on a sweet note at local fave Videri Chocolate Factory over housemade hot chocolate (nom nom) by the cup or local Black & White Coffee (based out of Wake Forest) with some soft-serve ice cream or handcrafted bean-to-bar chocolate. Order ahead or from the Videri walk-up window and bench your relationship (in the cute rom-com way of course) on an awning-covered bench, or stroll through the downtown streets hand in hand. Or, up the fairytale factor and indulge in some holiday hot chocolate (Deluxe hot chocolate with oat milk or local dairy, peppermint syrup, housemade whipped cream with a peppermint chocolate garnish) on the charming and cozy light-strung patio. Insider tip: BYO vino to accompany that “haught” chocolate. Patio hours correspond with B&W coffee hours (available on the chocolatier’s website). And, fun festive fact, the Holiday Retail Nook is open to the public for 15-minute experiences through the new year from noon to 6 p.m., or you can schedule your private shopping experience from 10 a.m. to noon (reserve online).

Ultimately, whether you and your mate met on a right swipe last week, in the wine aisle last year, are newlyweds, are building a budding family or have been married for 60 years—your roadmap to romance really depends on you and your connection. But, no doubt our city offers endless safe, sexy, sophisticated and scrumptious culinary and spirits masterpieces as a backdrop for the perfect date night chapter of your love story.

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  1. Road Map for Romance – What is the name of the rooftop pictured with the “personal igloos”?

    1. That is Unscripted Durham. unscriptedhotels.com/igloos/

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